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Let’s go back to 1988. In the basement of the Venray municipality town hall, archaeologists were making an inventory of the municipal archaeological collection. They were re-examining thousands of stone fragments collected in the 1960s by three archaeologists. One stone in particular caught their attention due to its flat shape. When they inspected the stone more carefully in better light, they discovered a dancing figure engraved on the stone. From then on, the stone would be known by its nickname, ‘The Wanssum Dancer’.
Why is this 38cm-long stone so exceptional? To answer that question, we have to go much further back in time, to prehistory. The name Wanssum is a contraction of the words Wodans Heim, which means Woden’s house. Woden – known as Woden, Wotan and Odin in Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Scandinavian languages respectively – was the supreme god in the Germanic pantheon, chief of the army of the dead and founding father of the Aesir lineage. Woden was a central figure in the Germanic festival of Yule that was celebrated at the winter solstice.
‘The Wanssum Dancer’ is one of only a handful of surviving prehistoric depictions of humans discovered in the Netherlands. The stone is estimated to be 10,000 years old.
For many years it was suspected that the engraving was a forgery, but in 2012 experts in Bordeaux concluded The Wanssum Dancer did in fact originate in antiquity. The Limburgs Museum has a copy of the stone on display and the original is stored in a depot in Venray.